Game Analysis

Spurs 97, Wolves 90: Too Little, Too Late

Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich’s teams squared off Saturday night in Texas

A tired Spurs team defeated the Timberwolves 97-90 in an overtime loss in San Antonio Saturday night. But the Wolves showed that they have the fiber to compete with the league’s best.

The Spurs, on the second-night of a back-to-back after an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans the night before, clawed their way back against the Wolves in the 4th quarter to force overtime.

San Antonio never led the game until star forward Kawhi Leonard put the Spurs ahead 80-78 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in regulation. The Spurs proceeded to dominate the overtime period and put the Wolves away for good, largely on the strength of Leonard’s performance.

Down the stretch, Kawhi was too much for the Wolves. As good as Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have been playing–they’ve been great as of late–Leonard was the best player on the floor by a significant margin on Saturday night.

The Wolves got off to a fast start in the 1st quarter, holding a lead of 26-14 despite shooting only 37%. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns had 6 apiece and Ricky Rubio notched 4 assists. The Wolves held SAS to 33% shooting in the first frame.

The Wolves played SAS to a draw in the 2nd, with both teams scoring 29 in the frame. The Spurs D started clamping down in the 3rd quarter, holding the Wolves to 15 points on 33.3% shooting.

Leonard turned it on in the 4th. He scored 14 of SAS’ 21 points in the frame. By contrast, Wiggins struggled in the 4th, scoring an inefficient 7 points on 2-7 shooting.

Leonard displayed the fiber and skill we hope Andrew Wiggins will develop as he matures. Leonard finished with 34 points, 10 boards, 5 assists and 5 steals. Wiggins had a bad night, getting 17 on 6-24 from the field.

The Wolves should’ve won this game, but it wasn’t a surprise when they lost. In a way, it felt like so many of the games earlier this season that the team led during the first two or three quarters, only to come up short at the finish. But on the other hand, it felt entirely different: the Spurs are the real McCoy, and the better, more experienced team won. That’s how it usually works in this business.

Granted, it would’ve felt great had the Wolves pulled out the victory last night, but the loss did not feel as deflating as the string of losses the Wolves suffered earlier in the season. The difference is that in this game, it felt like the Wolves had developed enough as a team to take useful lessons away from the loss. I’m as dubious about “moral victories” as anyone, but this one falls squarely into that category.

Even without Manu Ginobili–he was a DNP-Rest–the Wolves gave what remains one of the league’s very best teams all it could handle. And the Spurs, in turn, gave the Wolves a lesson in winning in #WinningTime.

I can’t necessarily say that a good time was had by all–after all, a moral victory does not a victory make–but the Wolves finally seem like a worthy competitor: not something to sneeze at in lookin at a game played on the road against one of the league’s best teams. Status as a “worthy competitor,” however defined, is something that has eluded ‘Sota for most of the last decade.

Other jottings:

  • KAT had another ho-hum 24 & 14 game. He’s really, really good.
  • Pau Gasol’s length has always bothered the Wolves. So has LaMarcus Aldridge’s. LMA had 18 & 10 and tied Kawhi for game-best +/- at +18. Gasol, who has been coming off the bench with former D-Leaguer Dewayne Dedmon starting at the five, had 17 & 8 and was +10. The Wolves still lack the length to deal with the teams that have it in spades, like SAS.
  • I’m thankful Ricky Rubio is still on our team and not playing for the Knicks. [Ice Cube voice] Last night Rubio f*cked around and got a triple-double. (Cue Cube)

Meanwhile, the Wolves finished their 4-game road trip at 2-2. Fret not–they’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot. (!)

They play next on Monday against Portland at Target Center.

Until then.

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4 thoughts on “Spurs 97, Wolves 90: Too Little, Too Late

  1. Playing the Spurs must be like trying to play chess while wrestling. No other trams test your brains and toughness to that degree.

    It’s kinda disappointing to see the smart teams are still able to trick Rubio into turnovers and spots on the floor that restrict his options. When they locked in during the 2nd half and OT, he had no counter, and his turnovers were killers.

  2. Seems like a lot to say about this one, but it is a blur in my mind. To gjk’s point, Ricky got uncharacteristically suckered into some bad turnovers. At the same time, some of our slop had to do with concrete legs in the second half. Hard to pass to people when they are just standing around, fully covered by one of the best D teams in the league. And the guy had a triple double and was a main reason we almost won (13 rebounds to Wiggins’ 4).

    On the other hand, if Wiggins showed up a bit more we would have been able to take this game. He has so far to go to become a Leonard type player, but I’m not asking him to be. In a 1 on 1 match up, we simply needed Wiggins to be somewhat better than he ended up being to have a good chance to beat the Spurs. Wiggins shot 25% and didn’t exactly pester Leonard.

    POINT WIGGINS AGAIN! In theory, if we didn’t go to that the last couple of possessions we could have won this game. We’ll never know, but I like our odds running something else, like our normal offense. Of course Pop went with point Leonard, too, and that didn’t work out so hot. But it was only their last possession and Leonard is a former MVP of the finals… So maybe a better gamble than our version.

    What is Gasol’s standing reach!?

    The officiating was less than great. In overtime Bjelica got called for a questionable offensive foul that is almost never whistled in OT, then on the Spur’s possession, Rubio got pushed 3 feet out of bounds with no call. The writing was on the wall ‘make sure the Spurs win this.’ They really didn’t need the help, though this was an off game for them (only 16 total assists).

    Thibs continues to confuse me. I hear all the time what a great coach he is, and how dare a mere peon question him in any way and so fourth. In some ways I love what he’s doing and he looks the part of a good coach–he has some good D schemes and has finally gotten solid improvement from the guys started at that end. But most games give me pause, too. I know we are a young team more in need on ‘settle down’ TOs, but, we are so often out of TOs at the end of games when we need them. And that can cost a ball advance and any real chance to try to win a game. Our inbounding plays continue to look really bad. I get that some of this is our young players not executing. But Some of it is not putting them in the right situation to succeed. Jim Pete ranted a bit about a bad inbound play. It also seems odd how often we run down the shot clock to zero with the loudest coach in the NBA constantly barking at our players…

    Hopefully, we can dust off and play well against Portland (who I always hate for some reason). This had a soul crushing aspect I hope rolls off our back, and we played the starters a heck of a lot of minutes. I’m a giant Dunn critic, but can’t we play the guy some wing minutes to cut back a little on how much our starters play? Can’t we play Cole a few more minutes to save Towns’ legs for end of game? We still are in position to make a run at the 8th seed and it is really fun so far.

  3. Rubio’s turnovers were not good, but he got turnovers on the Spurs too. The shot clock violations were also upsetting, but show how confusing the Spurs defense can be or how uninspired Thibs offense can be. KAT especially dribbles on an in bound pass, when he should be prepared to catch and shoot. He wasn’t the only one, Rubio and others seem to not be clear on what five seconds means or solid in getting open looks without Zack or Andrew playing at a high level.

    My biggest worry is how Thibs ran out of TO’s in the fourth quarter when the game could have swung in the balance. This is at least the third time this season, the wolves have squandered a lead and Thibs squandered our TO’s before the end of the game. I’m concerned that he may be a poor game coach, which will undermine his authority if we get to a situation that his mistake will be costly to a playoff game. When you go after a player for being stupid, as Thibs does, you better not make a silly coaching mistake yourself. I didn’t hear if he was mad at himself for doing it, but I know that if Jim Peterson calls it out, the whole team knows it too. He was playing against the maestro in Pop, but it is inexcusable to burn your TO and not be able to get a set play at half court at the end of a game, if needed. He also played his starters heavy minutes, while Pop went deeper to the bench and several different looks to keep Kawhi, Aldridge and Gasol fresh for the stretch run. Some of the poor shots and turnovers could be attributed to fatigue.

    Two steps forward and one step back. It would have been a sign from the basketball gods, if we could have found a way to beat a Spurs team that was a little less than stellar shooting last night and got a game closer to Denver. However, when you looked at the schedule, it wasn’t a game that you could have planned on winning. Portland is far more important to highlight your improving defense against a team that we could beat. I hope that Wiggins wears his big boy pants, because last night the huggies were a little ripe for our young star. Once he drove the lane and didn’t get the call (the refs last night, were a little star-struck for the Spurs and Pop) He kind of rolled over and played timid.

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